Please welcome Joe Clifford Faust to our game of ten questions. Joe’s book Drawing Down the Moon is also published through Kindle Press. He describes himself as witty, creative, quirky, constant, and introverted. His writing is quirky, suspenseful, witty, stimulating, and engrossing. I want to give Joe full credit for being the first guest author to accept my offer to rearrange the questions into his own order.
Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?
Over the years, through necessity, I've had to make do with writing wherever and whenever I could work it in. The best is always the traditional Home Office setting, but I've worked on novels during lunch hours at work, at Starbucks, and most recently in a doctor's office while my wife is getting physical therapy. My most unusual writing venue was in a store during a mass book signing. I plugged a monitor into my laptop so passersby could see what I was working on and could stop and ask questions if they wanted. No, the interruptions didn't derail me – but that's a story for another day.
What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
I'm a night person, and during the years when I had a day job, my traditional writing hours were in the evening, which sometimes took me into the wee hours of the morning. However, I've also done a lot of shift work, so over the years that optimal time had to move around. Right now I try to work afternoons when nobody but the dog is in the house.
As for caffeine, being a night person I do need a cup of coffee in the morning just so I can show some semblance of being a civilized human being. Do I need it to write? No. My drug of choice there is music, which I always have cranking when I work. To that end I have my iTunes player stocked with ~15k songs, most of which are decidedly uncommercial. I'm kind of strange that way.
How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?
I read about two books a month. For some reason I can't shut out the world like my wife and daughter can when they're reading, and my progress is hampered by easy distractions. I'm also in a perpetual state of distraction when I read fiction – I analyze it as I go – so I tend not to read it when I'm in the midst of writing it.
If you're confining great books to fiction, the last couple I've read that were great were Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky, which shouldn't count because I just reread it after having discovered Leonard a couple of decades ago. Was also very impressed with Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, probably the best dog book since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which technically isn't a dog book. I'm much easier to please with non-fiction. The last one that blew me away was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I try to force into the hands of anyone who asks me for a great book to read. [ed. note The Immortal Life is by Rebecca Skloot.]
Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
I'm taking this question because it's hard for me. I tend to be loyal to individual books rather than authors, because I find that most authors, like myself, are wildly inconsistent about the works they produce. That said, here are some authors I do follow, roadblocks notwithstanding.
Elmore Leonard – I'd say that Leonard is the exception to the inconsistency rule, just because a Leonard book that is not as good as some of the others is still a great read. A master of style, a master of dialogue, and a master of throwing the unexpected at you – think plot twists that are unexpected yet come logically out of what is happening at the moment. An American treasure.
Roger Ebert – There's a reason he's the only film critic to ever win a Pulitzer. The guy was a good writer. Really good. Great powers of description that made me want to see the movie even if I wasn't interested, and when he was ripping on a film he hated, his wit was unparalleled.
Mary Roach – I read a lot of science books, and Roach's are the only ones I laugh out loud at. She's got a great curiosity about science and is not afraid to ask the weird kind of questions of scientists that I would ask. She's also not afraid to become a guinea pig for the sake of getting a great story. If you don't like science, Roach may likely make you love it.
Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.
Michael Crichton – I was twelve years old when I walked into the library and saw The Andromeda Strain sitting on the New Releases table. It looked fascinating, so I checked it out and was blown away by it. I remember finishing it and saying to myself "Wow! This is the kind of book I want to write!" You can really see its influence in A Death of Honor, which I describe to people as "The Andromeda Strain meets Casablanca." And even though I've drifted out of writing Science Fiction, you still see that influence in Drawing Down the Moon, which has that element of science in it, albeit in a much smaller, Crichtonesque dose.
Donald Barthelme – Having a typical public school education, I was taught that a story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end, along with the other elements of character, conflict, and so on. When I walked into my first college level English Lit class and saw some of Barthelme's work in the textbook, I was blown away. That was the first time I saw someone toss out all the rules, but the end result worked so well. It also helped that he has a dark sense of humor and so do I, so maybe that's where the connection was made. So reading his stuff there and later on as I looked more of it up really opened to me the possibilities of what literature could do. Of course I stay within the rules most of the time, but I don't feel as restricted by them because I know I can break out of the box – and get away with it – if I have to.
Lawrence Block – A great mystery writer, but most importantly, his book Writing The Novel: From Plot to Print was extremely influential on me. And of course, his body of work gave him the cred to back it up. Speaking of that book, see the next question…
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
It was found in Lawrence Block's book Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print – "There is no right way to write a novel. The right way to write a novel is the one that works for you."
This was my Holy Grail of Writing as a young writer. I read Writer's Digest and The Writer religiously, trying to find The Right Way To Write A Novel and was always distressed by the way The Experts said you had to do it. When I finally started my first novel, I did so knowing that I wouldn't be writing it The Right Way. So when I bought Block's book and came to that line, it was extremely liberating.
By the way, that book is still in print, and I think I'm partly responsible for that because I keep recommending it to people – and sometimes buying copies for them - when I find out they're struggling with their first novel.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
Drawing Down the Moon began its evolution after I first moved to Ohio from Wyoming. I saw a news story on a Cleveland TV station about a convention of witches in the area. They interviewed a woman with a spider web tattooed on her belly – this was before tattoos had mainstreamed – and that image stuck with me, although I didn't know what I was going to do with it.
[Ed. note – I love the pseudo html coding Joe just used for his spoiler alert. I am announcing I plan on stealing that, and here’s your credit Joe, which I plan to cover me forever on the theft.]
What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?
In Drawing Down the Moon, the motivator is sex. Ricky Gold is on the chicken run, fleeing a relationship that, though it's broken, had the benefit of giving him sex pretty much whenever he wanted. Then he meets Cicada in a bar in the first chapter, and he's operating under the power of anonymity. He thinks the bartender has given him a green light to approach her, and he's looking for the kind of comfort he couldn't find in alcohol. Of course they get thrown together, and they go through a series of sexual near misses. His conscience is nagging him about being virtuous, but the world is sending him sexually oriented messages at every turn, and he's constantly walking this tightrope and wavering as he goes.
So you've got that duality fighting inside of him through the book, his Baptist upbringing (from which he has lapsed), and the libertine he thinks he's become. And the more he keeps sexually pursuing Kada, the more he finds out about her past, and he comes to see her as somebody's daughter, a human being, someone who is damaged and hurting. The book is about that progression, among other things.
You can learn more about Joe from his website http://joecliffordfaust.com/. To learn more about Drawing Down the Moon, here’s the blurb:
Cable TV personality Ricky Gold has problems. He's on the run from a bad relationship. He hasn't shown up for work in a week. His iPhone is at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And now his life is about to be turned upside down… It starts when he meets Kada – short for Cicada – in the middle of West Texas, and finds himself intrigued by her name, her tattoo, and the way an angry redneck chases her out of a bar. When someone close to Kada turns up dead their flight begins, first from an assassin… then two… then from every law enforcement officer in a five state area. Drawing Down the Moon is equal parts Hitchcockian thriller and romantic comedy, filled with memorable characters. It's a witty screwball noir thriller that follows Ricky and Kada as they fight to survive… and hope to find some really great Chinese food.